La Mesa Spring Valley Distributes Flexible and Family-Focused Meal Options
For the dedicated Child Nutrition Services teams in the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District, exceeding expectations is a natural part of the job. Serving diverse communities at elementary and middle schools allows leaders like Rancho Elementary School’s Sharina Weaver and Parkway Middle School’s Nancy McDaniel to get to know students and families and understand how to better meet their needs.
On the day we spoke to each of these school nutrition professionals, the district was introducing a new approach to their meal distribution during COVID. Instead of distributing individually packaged entrée and side items that prescribed the meals, the district was providing bulk items that allow for students and families to choose how to prepare meals using the staples provided.
The items included a variety of fresh, seasonal produce, and suggested recipes and nutrition education resources to help families.
“It gives families the opportunity to make the food at home the way that they're used to serving it to their family,” says Rancho’s Weaver.
“So instead of getting items that the kids would see on a normal basis at school, it gives them the opportunity to be a little bit more creative.
I think that's important, especially right now that families are at home so much and to have that opportunity to do that.”
“It’s actually more family oriented,” explains Parkway’s McDaniel. “The families are able to get in the kitchen and cook a little. And people are overwhelmingly happy and thankful.”
Empowering families through this new approach is just one outcome of a team that is consistently seeing to refine and improve its approach to public nutrition. Another is smashing stereotypes by allowing parents to have more of a first-hand look at the meals being served.
With parents coming to pick up meals instead of only hearing about them from their children, “it gives us the opportunity to show what we do for the community and what we provide,” says Weaver.
Seeing fresh produce and bulk items like pasta or rice or lean chicken gives a peek at the quality of food prepared and served in schools. And with families able to cook with these ingredients, they gain more confidence in what is served on a daily basis in non-pandemic times.
Adds McDaniel, “our families get to see what we do, like the fact that we do have a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. Being able to see the quality of the food first hand is a real benefit.”
Serving throughout COVID has also helped to connect the nutrition team to families by seeing parents and family members on a regular basis. This helps to build understanding of what families’ needs are and how the work of the schools addresses those needs.
Says McDaniel, “You know, the families are just so grateful and so thankful. They tell us that. Some are out of work, many are struggling. So most of them are grateful.”
That is echoed by Weaver. “It's really nice to see some of the families that I haven't had a chance to meet before, because normally I just see their students. I get to put a name to the face. And see the people we serve and know that people are getting something that they need.”